What is an online community?
Well what a couple of weeks it has been! I have enjoyed reading other’s ideas (as well as the required readings) on this topic. A new world is being opened up to me leaving me with the urge to learn so much more!
Any community has to have a purpose – a “reason for being”. Whether it is a community of practice at work, something that develops through your child’s school PTA or the local gym, people gravitate towards each other or gather together for a reason.
Communities in the past were often characterised as having geographic location as a principal commonality. The barrier of having to travel was a hindrance to forming extended communities. Looking back at my early childhood in rural Ireland we were very insular, rarely travelling to the “big” towns or having much interaction with others outside of our own “community”. Outsiders (I remember some of the first “foreigners” to come to live in our town!) were viewed with suspicion and had to work very hard to become an accepted member of our community. This could by the way take years! Having said that, I remember the sense of local community being very strong, help was never far away. You knew you were safe in that community. Do you feel safe in an online community? The level of anonymity probably contributes to the degree of safety felt – unlike in a f2f if you don’t like it, you get out – and probably most other members won’t notice you’ve gone!
In the last couple of decades the context of the term communities has metamorphasised due to technology into countless different areas that could not have been possible if limited to mere geographic location. An online community enables people from all over the world with a similar purpose/interest/need to meet in a virtual world yet still feel “connected” to them even though you probably will never meet f2f.
Human nature means that often many people get left out in a f2f community - the strong confident ones will always take the stage over the shy introverted ones. This still happens online yet in an online community more people (although many are still reticent to interact initially) may engage in communication with others due to the anonymity the web provides. Those who may not feel part of a community in their own town may feel very comfortable in an online community where they can meet with like minded people.
I enjoyed some of the extra readings. From the Communities of Practice by Etienne Wagner, I could relate to the quote: “A community functions with mutual engagement” – where you must interact with others to really feel a sense of “belonging”. Just by joining the FOC08 “Community” as part of my study does not at this early stage necessarily mean I feel part of the community yet – (being one of those more reticent people I mentioned earlier!) - I need to interact more with other members and become more familiar and confident of my role within this community before I think I will feel that sense of “belonging” more.
The Building Online communities’ article typifies this where it states that regular users develop community ownership: if you don’t contribute much – how can you feel part of a community?
I’ve discovered that the level of “hard work” involved to become a member of an online community depends on how much the individual wants to get out of it. In an online community more people participate on the fringes than in a community which involves f2f or close personal interaction. I think there is less “peer pressure” from an online community, more people “lurk” waiting for the right opportunity to have their say or input their idea. In a f2f situation someone akin to a “lurker” would be viewed with suspicion!
I look forward to continuing this journey into online communities!